In the summer of 1816—the “year without a summer”—Lord Byron, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Byssche Shelley, her step-sister Claire Clairmont (who was also Byron’s lover), and Byron’s personal physician John Polidori gathered at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva and begain regaling one another with stories. After reading selections from the recently published Fantasmagoriana, a French collection of German ghost stories, Byron proposed that they each try their hand at writing their own gothic tales. Shelley eventually wrote some posthumously published ghost stories, Byron started and abandoned a novel, and Polidori wrote the first vampire story ever published, appropriately named “The Vampyre,” but it was Mary Godwin, who later married Shelley, who wrote the Gothic tale that has endured the test of time: Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus.
This issue of Voices de la Luna celebrates her accomplishment and offers other poems and tales of a fantastic nature, as well as a review of Sarah Stegall’s novel Outcasts: A Novel of Mary Shelley, based on that famous meeting along the shores of Lake Geneva. We include contributions from two of Mary Shelley’s companions on that fateful evening, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, and we nod as well to two other masters of the fantastic and bizarre, Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka.
Our featured poet is Rod Carlos Rodriguez, who formerly published poems as Rod Stryker. He shares four of his poems, including a paean to what is arguably the pinnacle of creation, “Homo Poeticus.” Thanks to a chance encounter and a shared birthday dessert, Voices board member Lauren Walthour was able to land an interview with former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, and we also publish a new poem by him. Chip Dameron offers an ekphrastic poem about a statue outside the Kafka Museum in Prague that is … well, it gives new meaning to the phrase “stream of consciousness.” We have three poems—two new, one classic—about twilight in this issue, as well as a whimsical poem by local poet Tom Keene about “The Angel at El Milagrito.”
This issue features some realistic, even gritty pieces as well. Vickie Vértiz takes us for a stroll along “Eastern Avenue.” Diana Wilson surveys the carnage left by civil war in “No es Syria, es Oaxaca.” In “Blind Faith,” Alan Berecka wonders how much of a difference poetry makes in the wake of disasters like the bombing in Brussels. Other pieces, however, remind us of the good and amusing that also surround us. Taylor Collier, in “December 2014,” describes an interaction between police and a group of teens that did not turn violent. Norma Liliana Valdez muses about the “Woman in Black” painted on a stucco wall in downtown San Antonio. Despite the whims of her GPS device, K.B. Eckhardt seeks, and finds, enjoyment in a museum and in a Turkish café in “Rekindling Spirit.” On a much lighter note, Paul Juhasz recounts his experiences working in an Amazon warehouse in “Fulfillment: Diary of an Amazonian Picker,” which we will be serializing over the next few issues. Finally, the cover art and other selected artwork in this issue were designed by the late, lamented Jim Harter, whose humor and sense of the collective unconscious permeate his work. For your consideration: Volume 9, Issue 1 of Voices de la Luna.
Between Navarro and Richmond Avenues there is a woman on stucco, made flat and hot plastered. If I were to touch her, she’d burn. She is stamen and pistil rising among black rose petals— 1940s Hollywood glamor, hoop earrings chola. She holds one hand over the black, under her left breast. Her gaze, seductive and illusive, must have been painted by a man. I’m not convinced it’s real. A woman’s desire is not so stylized. I don’t burn like her. I am not those eyes, those bare shoulders. I am embers at the ready. Too much already burned down in me. Only the right wood at my feet will fire.
a sliver, a whisper slides under my notice, digs deep in dark soil fresh, moist from last night’s quieting rain, until the first seed cracks through grains, flashes lightning and peels thunderclaps, drives other seeds to crack and explode over mountains, heralds forests to blaze over cities and deserts, sparks a wave of birds that crash and flood battle fields and war machines, the earth is drowned in Mother’s arms singing a lullaby for a singular species, homo poeticus
Esa no es Syria, es Oaxaca that’s what the description of the photo album you just found on Facebook says and on the first picture the lined trucks are burning and you can almost smell burning flesh too That is not Syria, that is Oaxaca esa no es Syria, es mi pueblo muchos dicen and with every photo taken in Noxchitlán that night you can almost hear the bullets and the yelling and the suffering that come after That is not Syria, esa no es Syria and when looking at the helicopter picture you can almost feel the pepper gas rain coming from it eat you alive starting from your eyes Esa no es Syria, es Oaxaca and the photo album is just starting That is not Syria, that is Oaxaca and I say it in English so you understand when I say it is not repression it is civil war Esa no es Syria that is not outsiders from another country that is people who grew up together killing each other because they have nothing else to lose and everything to gain Yes, that is not Syria, es Oaxaca and, yes those you see there are dead human bodies Esa no es Syria, that is Oaxaca and if you look closer at your screen you will see the agent pointing his gun at the civilian’s head Esa no es Syria, es Oaxaca y esa no es una pelea justa that is guns against rocks and rockets against sticks That is not Syria, that is Oaxaca and if you were able to see behind the fire and the smoke curtain you would find the little images of Jesus Christ that protect the entrance of all the houses Esa no es Syria, es Oaxaca and that is the woman who cries solo quiero justicia and begs por favor after they took her family away Esa no es Syria that is not Syria Esa es Oaxaca that is Oaxaca so, yes that’s why you probably shouldn’t care.
I have, I fear, entered an odd, incongruous world.
This fact became apparent a few hours into the new employee orientation, when I (along with four dozen or so other new hires) was turned over to HR’s head trainer, self-identified only as “The Sarge.” A squat, grizzled, mid-60ish barrel with an iron gray flat top, wearing a faded green T-shirt emblazoned with the order to “Kiss Me, I’m Irish,” The Sarge reminded me of a Ralph Steadman sketch made flesh.
He began his presentation with a discussion of Amazon’s zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. Any verified case of an associate threatening another associate, we were told, would result in immediate termination.
But as he informed us of Amazon’s commitment to a violence-free workplace, he interrupted himself to tell two of our group chatting in the back that if they did not stop talking while he was talking, he would “smash your skulls together and have maintenance dump your lifeless bodies in the dumpster out back.”
The Sarge is, I thought to myself, a funny man.
The Sarge, as it turns out, is not a funny man. He is merely unintentionally ironic.
The second portion of his presentation featured a video meant to highlight the damaging impact of sexual harassment and racial discrimination in the workplace. When the video was over, The Sarge reinforced its message, emphatically asserting that Amazon had a zero-tolerance sexual harassment and racial discrimination policy.
The Sarge then called roll, assigning each of us to smaller training groups. But he did more than this; he offered commentary after each name that was, in light of the video he just showed us, somewhat perplexing.
A few examples:
For a Kevin Koswalski, he directed: “Kevin Kos-work-ski-in group-ski three-ski.”
For Manuel, a middle-aged Hispanic man, The Sarge added: “Good, we now literally have some Manuel labor.”
After assigning a young 20-something woman named Riann to group 5, he unabashedly leered at her ass as she passed, and while the cacophony of conveyor belts, forklifts, and other assorted automated rumblings make it difficult to say with any certainty, I am pretty sure I heard him make a yummy sound.
After he worked through about two dozen names, he announced, “And yet another Hispanic. Did you all ride in together?”
To my surprise, he then called my name, and the following conversation ensued:
Me: “Um, I’m not Hispanic.”
The Sarge: “Last name’s Juhasz, right?”
Me: “Yes, but it’s not Hispanic.”
The Sarge: “Well, Ju-haz, Ju-Has a funny last name. Sounds Hispanic.”
Me: “It’s Hungarian.”
The Sarge (perplexed): “Where’s Hungaria?”
Stunned silence, then,
The Sarge: “Oh, a Limey, huh? Group 3.”
I think I may have made a mistake coming here. I think if I was a smart man, I would run away from here as fast as I can and never come back.